Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Christianity in China: the repression and the propaganda

The situation regarding religious freedom in China is complex. While the phenomenal growth experienced in China's state-sanctioned, registered (i.e. legal) churches is encouraging and truly inspiring, the regulations imposed on these churches are for many, simply unacceptable and prohibitive.

Rather than submit to what they regard as unacceptable levels of regulation, the overwhelming majority of Chinese Christians risk serious persecution in order to worship freely. Meeting and worshipping in unregistered (i.e. illegal) house churches -- without Chinese Communist Party (CCP) permission, without CCP supervision, defying CCP restrictions on movement and evangelism etc -- they risk fines and "administrative detentions" (no charge or trial required) of up to15 days in prison or up to three years in Mao's laogai (a "gulag" of more than 900 state-owned, CCP-administered slave labour camps. Of course this is one reason why "Made in China" is so cheap.)

Propaganda Alert!


The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is presently engaged in a strategic global propaganda campaign. The CCP wants everyone to know that it is today a party of suits, not fatigues; advancing prosperity, security and Chinese culture, not revolution.

The CCP's aim is doubtless to bolster nationalistic zeal, delegitimise both domestic and international criticism, and obscure the fact that China remains a totalitarian state.

See: The (propaganda) empire strikes in China
By Kent Ewing, Asia Times on Line, 24 Aug 2010

Included in this propaganda campaign are efforts to present China as a land of great religious liberty where Christianity flourishes, despite regulations.

Chinese authorities recently gave the BBC "unprecedented access" to China's state-sanctioned churches and religious institutions, including Amity House where some 12 million Bibles are published each year (at least 40 percent for export).

Of course the BBC subsequently released a glowing report on the Chinese Communist Party's "commitment to supporting the development of Christianity".

See: China invests in confident Christians
By Christopher Landau BBC News, China, 23 August 2010

"Three decades ago, China's Cultural Revolution saw some of the most dramatic restrictions on the practice of religion ever seen in the modern world.

"But today's communist rulers have radically altered their views about religion and have granted substantial freedom to Christians prepared to worship within state-sanctioned churches.

"Within these boundaries, Christianity is growing in China as never before - and doing so supported by millions of dollars of government funding. . . "

ALSO:
HEART & SOUL, on BBC radio.
Christianity in China
Episode 1
Episode 2

The BBC report was of course picked up by others and quickly multiplied -- its message echoing many times over across the globe.

As exciting as church growth in state-sanctioned churches is, this is not the whole story, indeed, it may be little more than a facade, erected to hide totalitarian repression.

In March 2010, I a highlighted an important lecture by Richard Madsen who comments on the fact that while CCP methods of control have evolved, the CCP still demands the church accept the "government master, religion follower" formula of Imperial China's sacral hegemony.

This is indeed the sense we get from listening to the BBC radio programs. The CCP is clearly more than happy to have the church exist as a "servant" to the state, filling in gaps in social services, helping to keep the masses satiated and pacified. However, the CCP is definitely not willing to have the church to act as "prophet".

Meanwhile, along with its interest in exploiting Christian service, the money-idolising CCP is also seriously interested in seeing if it can exploit the link between Protestant Christianity and economic prosperity. Maybe they are gambling that a carefully measured and closely supervised dose of medicinal Christianity will make CCP-ruled China rich. Of course it is absolutely imperative that this medicinal Christianity be "carefully measured" and "closely supervised", for the CCP is fully aware of the problems that could be triggered by an overdose.

In August, the state-funded Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) released its Annual Report on China's Religions.

See: Academy releases report on religion
Source: Global Times, 13 August 2010

According to the CASS report, China currently has 23.05 million Protestant Christians, of which almost one-third converted since 2003. Furthermore, 60 percent said they turned to Christianity after they or family members suffered from illness, while more than half of Chinese Protestants have not received secondary schooling.

Of course many would dispute those statistics. Fan Yafeng (41) a researcher with the Zhongfu Shengshan Institute and ex-CASS researcher flatly rejects CASS's findings as "ridiculous". A house church member for 13 years, Fan asserts that there are at least 500,000 Protestants in Beijing alone -- five times the figure asserted by the CASS -- and that a lot of them are well-educated professionals and intellectuals.

The aim of the CASS report is doubtless to elevate the role of the CCP in the alleged recent explosion of Christianity -- thereby establishing the church's debt to the regime -- while diminishing the Christians themselves as needy and under-educated, i.e. weak and vulnerable, i.e. not the sort of crowd with which any strong, intelligent and influential individual might wish to identify.

Preserving the CCP

Jamestown's China Brief has published a hugely significant study (in two parts) by Arthur Waldron, in which Waldron analyses an eight-part television series in which Chinese social scientists analyse the fall of the Soviet regime. The series is called "Preparing for Danger in Times of Safety -- Historic Lessons Learned from the Demise of Soviet Communism".

According to Waldron the series attributes the demise of the Soviet regime, not to openness or restructuring, but to very specific failures of the Soviet Union Communist Party (SUCP). Decade-long research has determined that the Soviet regime failed "because," reports Waldron, "it gave up the dictatorship of the proletariat, ceased to practice democratic centralism, criticized Stalin, was beguiled by western concepts such as democracy, and also tripped up by Western propaganda and other operations."

The series adulates Lenin and Stalin, while demonising Khrushchev and Gorbachev. Waldron quotes Chinese social scientists Zhou Xincheng and Guan Xueliang who maintain: "The disorders of the 1980s and 1990s in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe all have a conspicuous characteristic, which is that they were all set in motion by negation of and attacks on 'the Stalin model'." They regard Khrushchev's "secret speech" of 14 February 1956 -- "On Personal Worship and its Consequences", in which he denounced Stalin before the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union -- as the beginning of the end. Waldron notes that even today, no criticism of either Stalin or Mao is permitted in China, although Mao is the subject of considerable public criticism regardless.

The Chinese analysts firmly believe that the situation in the Soviet Union could have been salvaged had the Soviets adopted the path subsequently followed by China: adhered to Marxist-Leninist theory and paths while correctly solving its problems and conflicts, correcting mistakes with courage. They conclude that the Soviet regime fell because, in its attempts to make the system more "humane", it failed to maintain a comprehensive dictatorship. "The consensus is," writes Waldron, "that Gorbachev was beguiled by the siren song of 'humanitarian socialism'."

"Such" writes Waldron," is the Chinese official -- it must be stressed official -- diagnosis of the Soviet failure, and from the diagnosis will flow the policy solution. Perhaps it is not surprising, then, that party discipline and unity are at the top of the list of issues being stressed publicly in China today, and simple repression is regularly employed as a means of dealing with tensions, while relatively less emphasis is placed on how to cope with the vast challenges posed to any authoritarian government by a dynamic, growing, and ever-differentiating society."

Waldron regards China's "concealed history" as a ticking time bomb. "It is a good bet," he reckons, "that someone in [the next] generation of leadership will make a Chinese 'secret speech' and turn to the ideas of humanity in socialism, even though they are today officially excoriated in analyses of the disintegration of the Soviet Union."

Chinese Analyses of Soviet Failure: The Party
Publication: China Brief Volume: 9 Issue: 23
November 19, 2009 By: Arthur Waldron for Jamestown

Chinese Analyses of Soviet Failure: Humanitarian Socialism
Publication: China Brief Volume: 10 Issue: 11
May 27, 2010, By: Arthur Waldron

No matter what happens, the CCP does not have the last word on Christianity in China.

Antonio Weiss writes in the Guardian:"With the state now actively financing Christianity, China could well become the largest Christian country in the world."

Weiss' assessment is only partly correct.

For "Yes", China is set to emerge as the world's largest Christian country. Indeed, China is destined to become the greatest missionary-sending nation the world has ever seen.

But "No", it will not be on account of the Chinese Communist Party.

Rather, all the glory will be God's.
For HE alone is sovereign.
And HE is doing a great work in China.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

"Hezballah's Christian allies": a "covenant with death" if ever there was one.

The Special Tribunal for Lebanon -- the International Court set up in May 2007 by the UN Security Council to investigate the February 2005 assassination of former Lebanese premier Rafiq Hariri and 22 others -- will soon deliver its findings. Expectations are running high that the tribunal will indict Hezballah, Syria and heads of Lebanon's intelligence agencies.

Reports and movements on the ground in Lebanon indicate that if the tribunal does indict Hezballah, then Hezballah will stage a coup or a policy-reversing blitzkeig similar to the one it staged in Beirut in May 2008 in which it laid siege to the homes of Sunni leader Saad Hariri (son of the assassinated Rafiq Hariri) and Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, and won, through force of arms, the right to share power and veto government decisions.

"What is beyond doubt," writes Zvi Mazel in the Jerusalem Post, "is that both Hizbullah and Syria will do all they can to prevent the court from fulfilling its mandate. If the court does not desist one way or another, fighting will probably erupt in Lebanon."

Tensions soar

If the Special Tribunal on Lebanon (STL) rules, as is expected, that Hezballah, Syria and the heads of Lebanese intelligence agencies are complicit in the assassination of Rafiq Hariri, then the issue of Hezballah's arms would most certainly be back on the table. As Elias Youssef Bejjani reports, Hezballah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah has vowed not to abide by the court's rulings, having tagged the tribunal an Israeli-American conspiracy and a tool of treason against Lebanon established on the fabrications of false witnesses in a bid to have the "resistance" cornered, framed, dismantled and disarmed. Nasrallah, determined to prevent any ruling that could lead to calls for Hezballah's disarmament, is threatening violence.

Once again, Lebanon teeters on the verge of civil war. The pressure has been such that Prime Minister Saad Hariri has been forced to retreat. Realistically, what else can Hariri do? For PM Hariri has no means to fight Hezballah, especially now the US has no influence in the region, Iran is ascendant, and Saudi Arabia (Hariri's natural ally) is more interested in improving ties with Sunni-majority Arab Syria in the vain hope that it can lure Syria out of Iran's Shi'ite-majority Persian embrace.

Even after his March 14 Alliance won the June 2009 elections, Hariri was forced to accommodate Hezballah by inviting them into a government of national unity. Thus Hezballah secured through terror, not only a share of power and the right to veto parliament, but control of the foreign affairs, health, communications, energy and industry portfolios as well.

The situation has not changed. In the absence of meaningful international support (i.e. something other than mere words), Lebanon's national security will remain dependent upon perpetual accommodation and appeasement of Hezballah.

In September, Syria's President Bashir summonsed PM Hariri to meet with him in Damascus. Upon his return, Hariri echoed the sentiments of Hezballah's Nasrallah and cast suspicions on the ability of the STL to make a right judgement. Hariri suggested that the tribunal had been deceived and that this had led to a deterioration of relations between Lebanon and Syria. Next month Hariri will play host Iranian President Ahmadinejad. Clearly, to a threatened man without means of resistance, the gravitational pull of the Iranian axis is irresistible.

Sami Gemayel, a Maronite Christian, is the son of former president Amin Gemayel, brother of assassinated MP Pierre Gemayel, and nephew of assassinated former president-elect Bachir Gemayel. As a strong Lebanese nationalist, he is a staunch critic of Hezballah. Consequently, Gemayel objected vehemently to PM Hariri's u-turn on the STL, going on to accuse Hezballah of collaborating against Lebanon's interests. Nasrallah responded by posting a grim threat on Hezballah's website -- the Islamic Resistance Forum -- in which he denounced the Christian leader as an Israeli spy and called for his "crucifixion on a pole in the Pride and Dignity Square in Beirut".

Hezballah's Christian allies

At the time of the 2005 elections, around 70 percent of Lebanon's Christians supported the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) of General (retired) Michel Aoun. On 6 February 2006, Aoun signed a "Memorandum of Understanding" (MOU) with Hezballah leader Hassan Nasrallah in a ceremony in Mar Mikhail Church, just a few blocks from Hezballah's headquarters in Beirut's southern suburbs. Doubtless Hezballah was seeking to secure Christian allies who could support their causes in parliament. Nasrallah may have even been betting that the March 8 opposition could ride to power on the FPM's coat-tails. Meanwhile, the highly ambitious Aoun had his eyes on the presidency (reserved for a Christian) and was doubtless betting (as were many Christians) he could secure political power, liberty and security for Christians through a pact/covenant with the toughest boys on the block.

Back in June 2006, after I wrote a piece entitled "Lebanon Falls" in which I was critical of Hezballah's May 2008 violent seizure of Beirut, I was chided by some well known Lebanese evangelicals who accused me of misrepresenting Hezballah. After commenting that they and virtually all Lebanese Christians shared Hezballah's anti-Israel stance, they insisted that Hezballah was most definitely not anti-Semitic, not anti-Christian, and not a terrorist organisation. On the contrary, they told me, Hezballah was in fact an ally in the quest for religious liberty, political power and equality, citing the MOU as "proof".

I said at the time, and still maintain today, that this alliance with Hezballah will be for Christians nothing other than a "covenant with death" (Isaiah 28:15-22).

By the time of the June 2009 elections, suspicion was simmering throughout the Christian heartland north of Beirut where Hezballah's establishment of military outposts was causing alarm. Consequently, a significant number of Christians deserted Aoun on polling day, and Aoun could not deliver to Hezballah the numbers he had projected.

Today, reports and movements on the ground suggest that Hezballah is preparing to stage a coup and co-opt its Christian allies to fight its Christian opponents.

Elias Youssef Bejjani reports: "Well-informed Saudi sources have confirmed to the 'Beirut Observer' that . . . information became available to them indicating that an imminent Hezbollah coup is in on the horizon." According to reports, Hezballah's strategy will be similar to that enacted in the May 2008 blitzkrieg, in that militants will simultaneously take control of roads, media and state institutions, and besiege the homes of government officials, effectively placing them under house arrest until they are subdued.

(Of course there will be no need to besiege Walid Jumblatt's home this time, as he switched sides after the June 2009 election in order to align himself with the ascendant force. For along with the fact that Hezballah has proved itself to be the strongest military force in the country, despite losing the election 70 to 58 seats, the Hezballah-led March 8 opposition did win 55 percent of the vote.
See: How will Jumblatt’s split affect March 14?
By Maya Khourchid, NOW Lebanon, 6 August 2009
AND: Walid Jumblatt in Closed-Door Meeting with Druze Sheikhs: 'We Have No Choice But to Coexist with the Shi'ites'. MEMRI June 2009. )

According to reports, Hezballah's Christian allies have conspired with Hezballah to this end, and have served as intermediaries enabling Hezballah to purchase real estate in Christian regions loyal to PM Hariri and the March 14 Alliance. It has been confirmed that Hezballah has deployed some 3,500 armed militiamen along the Mediterranean coast and throughout the Christian regions north of Beirut, including through the cities of Junieh, Tabarja and Batroun. These militants, having taken up residence in chalets and apartments deep inside Christian areas, simply await the green light. Consequently, in the event of conflict, Hezballah will be positioned to besiege the homes of Dr. Samir Geagea (head of the Christian Lebanese Forces Party) and Amin Gemayel (head of the Kataeb Christian Party) and subdue the Christian regions by force. As in May 2008, Hezballah is not expecting any resistance from the clearly partisan Lebanese Army.

Further to this, Hezbollah is reportedly counting on General Michel Aoun's military aid in the Christian regions, where Aoun's role allegedly will be to contain and abort by force any resistance from the Lebanese Forces and the Phalanges Parties.

This sets up a conflict scenario where Hezballah's Christian allies (backed by Hezballah of course) will be pitted against Hezballah's Christian opponents in a military conflagration where ultimately the only real winner can be Hezballah. A "covenant with death" indeed.

See also:
Hariri case 'could cause civil war'
Politician warns of sectarian violence if UN-backed tribunal indicts members of Hezbollah movement.
Aljazeera, 24 Sep 2010

Lebanon's hour 
of reckoning
Claude Salhani, Khaleej Times, 25 September 2010

Syria, Saudi seek to calm tensions in Lebanon
By Rita Daou (AFP), 24 Sept2010

Fear and Loathing in the Levant
By Zvi Mazel for the Jerusalem Post, 21 Sept 2010.

Hezbollah's looming Coup Scenario
Elias Youssef Bejjani, International Analyst Network, 24 Sep 2010

Geagea accuses rivals of plotting 'coup' over STL
FPM raps LF chief’s ‘isolationist policy’
By Wassim Mroueh, Daily Star, 27 September 2010

Hizbullah reasserts right to defend itself against 'politicized' STL
By Elias Sakr, Daily Star, 27 September 2010

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

ALGERIA: arrest warrant issued amidst escalating repression

A judge in the Algerian coastal city of Tizi-Ouzou has issued an arrest warrant for Ali Arhab, the Algerian-born director of the France-based Christian satellite ministry Channel North Africa.

What initially appeared to be a simple case of mistaken identity has developed into something decidedly more sinister. The concern is that the Algerian government might be wielding a false criminal charge against Mr Arhab as part of its anti-missionary, anti-fitna, Islamist-appeasement campaign, the effect being that Mr Arhab will be unable to return to Algeria without risking imprisonment.

Religious Liberty in Algeria

According to The Constitution of the People's Democratic Republic of Algeria (approved by Referendum on 28 November 1996) Algerian citizens are free to observe their own religion.

"Freedom of creed and opinion is inviolable" (Article 36).
"The right to create associations is guaranteed" (Article 43).

However, unlike Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 36 of the Algerian Constitution does not make any reference to an individual's right to change their religion. Furthermore, Article 2 states "Islam is the religion of the state", and Article 9 prohibits "practices that are contrary to the Islamic ethics and to the values of the November Revolution". Together these render religious liberty illusory. (NOTE: the "November Revolution" marked the beginning of Algeria's war of independence, the goal of which, according to the Front de Libération Nationale (FLN), was the establishment of Algeria as an independent sovereign state "within the framework of the principles of Islam" (Front de Libération Nationale, 1 Nov 1954).

Moustafa Bouchachi, President of the Algerian League for the Defense of Human Rights, recently protested the criminalisation of eating during Ramadan on the grounds that "The Algerian constitution prescribes freedom of religion. . ." Yet clearly the reality is more complicated.

See: Algerian men put to justice for breaking the Ramadan fast
By David E. Miller / The Media Line, Jerusalem Post, 7 Sept 2010

As David Miller of the Jerusalem Post reports, police in the Algerian province of Bejaya, in the Kabylie region east of the capital Algiers, recently arrested ten young men as they sat in a closed restaurant, charging them with eating in public in violation of the sanctity of Ramadan. The police were allegedly responding to complaints from locals who, they claim, had reported the "public desecration".

The men faced court in the town of Akbou on Monday 6 September but the verdict will not be known until early November. If convicted, the offenders face up to 2 years in jail.

As Miller notes, the incident reflects the growing trend amongst Muslim governments to cater to devout public sentiment in the Muslim world. (See here for a report on Morocco's persecution of fast-breakers.)

Protesting the charges against the alleged fast-breakers, Moustafa Bouchachi, President of the Algerian League for the Defense of Human Rights noted: "There is no law in Algeria prohibiting eating on Ramadan, only one banning 'mocking Ramadan'. We believe that this lawsuit is unfounded. The Algerian constitution prescribes freedom of religion, so we think this is an affront to people's basic right, which we condemn."

Mouloud Benkadoum, a lawyer representing the owner of the restaurant, claims his client is being unjustly discriminated against. "The large hotels serve alcohol and meals in broad daylight during Ramadan," he told reporters.

According to Sallah A-Din Belabes, executive editor of Al-Watan, the arrests are simply a means by which the Algerian government can display some Islamic zeal and score points with Islamic fundamentalists. He believes that the fact that the arrests took place in the region of Kabylie, which he describes as "less religious than other parts of Algeria" (i.e. less Islamic fundamentalist), is significant. Doubtless the men were arrested to make a point locally -- that Islam will be observed in the Kabylie region "willingly or unwillingly" (Qur'an Sura 13:15) -- while scoring points with Muslim fundamentalists everywhere.

UPDATE: (22 Sept 2010)

Two Christian construction workers appeared in the provincial court in Ain El Hammam (50 km south of Tizi Ouzou) on Tuesday 21 Sept, charged with in eating during the daylight hours of Ramadan.

Hocine Hocini and Fellak Salem, both in their 40s, had been working on a private construction site when they ate their "illegal" lunch on 13 August.

"I am optimistic... I have no regrets, I am a Christian" Hocine Hocini, told AFP. "We are innocent, we have not hurt anyone. We are Christians and we did not eat in a public place."

Meanwhile, lawyers defending the two men have demanded their acquittal. They argue that existing Algerian laws do not prohibit citizens from breaking the Ramadan fast.

The police however, argued in favor of legal provisions that protect religious precepts from being disobeyed.

See:
Algeria: A disturbing trial of Christians over Islamic Ramadan fast
Afrik-News, Wednesday 22 Sept 2010,

Christians and liberal Muslims repressed to appease Islamists

Appeasement of Islamists was doubtless the primary motive behind the draconian March 2006 religion law that imposes severe restrictions on non-Muslim worship and has seen several Algerian Christians dragged before the courts for praying together or possessing Christian literature.

Algeria's March 2006 religion law was adopted as a presidential order (without debate) less than six months after some 10,000 condemned Islamists were amnestied. Most probably the amnesty involved some quid pro quo wherein the government agreed to repress Christianity and advance Islamisation in exchange for "peace". If there was no quid pro quo, then the March 2006 religion law might simply have been the government's attempt at pre-emptive appeasement through the removal of a "provocation". Whatever is the case, it does appear that religious freedom may have been the price the government paid for peace with fundamentalist and militant Islamists.

See Algeria: severe new penalties for 'proselytising'
WEA Religious Liberty News & Analysis by Elizabeth Kendal, 24 March 2006

Algeria: Christians and the extremist threat.
WEA Religious Liberty News & Analysis by Elizabeth Kendal, June 2007

And Christians in Algeria – witnessing in difficult times
Aid to the Church in Need, 27 Aug 2010

When the 300-member "Tafat" ("Light" in Kabyle) Fellowship in Tizi-Ouzou (100km east of Algiers) came under attack in December 2009, the Algerian government blamed the victim. Maintaining that Islam is inherently tolerant and peaceful, the authorities insisted that the violence must be due to factors other than Islam: such as non-compliance with the law, political opponents out to discredit or destabilise the government, foreign conspiracies, or provocative Christian evangelism.

See: Nous ne sommes pas contre la construction des églises
El Watan 29 Dec 2009. Translation (google)

ARREST WARRANT ISSUED IN ALGERIA FOR ALI ARHAB

In March 2010, Ali Arhab received a phone call in France from his parents in Algeria, alerting him to the fact that a judge in his home city of Tizi-Ouzou had issued an arrest warrant for "ALI ARAB" on charges of "fraud" (swindling). The warrant would have been of no concern to Ali Arhab if it had not been for the fact that his parents were named on the warrant.

After some investigation, a lawyer hired by Mr Arhab's parents determined that the warrant was doubtless intended for a building contractor by the name of Ali Arab who, it appears, has several complaints of swindling registered against his name. With this established, the lawyer pressed to have the case cleared only to be shocked when the authorities chose instead to amend the nationwide arrest warrant to read "ALI ARHAB".

The lawyer is concerned that the judge and the public prosecutor might be acting on behalf of higher authorities who might be plotting against Mr Arhab on account of his Christian activities in serving Algerian churches. Mr Arhab has reason to believe that he has been under surveillance ever since the Religion Law was passed in March 2006.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Turkmenistan: mounting repression


Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 072 | Wed 08 Sep 2010


---------------------------------
TURKMENISTAN: MOUNTING REPRESSION
---------------------------------

In 1985 USSR president Mikhail Gorbachev appointed a colourless Soviet apparatchik Saparmurat Niyazov to head the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Turkmen Soviet Socialist Republic. When Turkmenistan became independent in 1991, Niyazov -- who automatically became president -- transformed into an eccentric and reclusive megalomaniac. Under Niyazov, Turkmenistan became one of the world's most repressive and Stalinist states. The all-pervasive cult of Niyazov -- rivalled only by North Korea's cult of Kim -- led to jokes about 'Weirdistan'. But life under Niyazov was anything but a joke. Suffocating religious repression, backed up with violent systematic persecution, was the norm.

When Niyazov died suddenly on 21 December 2006, many Christians hoped that a new era had dawned. Initially the signs were positive, and relief mingled enthusiastically with hope. (Rigged) elections were held in February 2007. There was constitutional reform. The 'elected' president, Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov (formerly Niyazov's dentist), was talking to the West. There was a new openness.

However, as time has passed it has become increasingly evident that the only difference between Niyazov and Berdimuhamedov is that Berdimuhamedov is a smarter politician. He immediately moved to erect facades and create illusions so as to attract investment and avoid sanctions. However, as new (post August 2008) geo-strategic realities kick in, he realises he no longer needs to play these games.

As Turkmenistan's President for life, Berdimuhamedov violates the constitution with impunity. According to Annasoltan, the 'neweurasia' chief blogger for Turkmenistan, the cult of Niyazov is being replaced with the cult of Berdimuhamedov. While the famous rotating gold statue of Niyazov was recently dismantled, a larger and more expensive new monument devoted to Berdimuhamedov will soon be erected in another part of the capital. Niyazov's portraits are being replaced with portraits of Berdimuhamedov, who presents himself as the divine saviour of all Turkmen. World leaders, he maintains, are insanely jealous. Accordingly, everything 'foreign' and non-traditional is treated as seditious.

Despite being gas-rich, the country is wracked with poverty. Yet Berdimuhamedov invests in grandiose building projects designed to create the illusion of success and prosperity. (Currently planned is a $2 billion Olympic Village in Ashgabat -- not that the Olympics are coming to Ashgabat any time soon.) Criticism is treason. All religion that is 'foreign', non-traditional and not centred on Berdimuhamedov is repressed and persecuted, most commonly through the imprisonment of religious leaders on false criminal charges. There can be no justice for, in violation of the constitution, Berdimuhamedov has personally appointed the judiciary to do his bidding.

Forum 18 reports that on 22 July Turkmen police raided a church-run summer youth camp in Sekiz-Yab, taking 47 Christians into custody on the pretext of investigating a local murder. Once inside Geoketpe police station the pretext evaporated, Bibles were confiscated and the believers were interrogated about who converted them and who funds their activities. They were photographed and fingerprinted while copies were made of their passports. After being detained overnight, the group left feeling greatly intimidated.

Also in July, members of a Baptist church in Dashoguz (or Dashhowuz) were pressured to sign statements that they would no longer attend the church. Elsewhere, two Protestant Christians were sacked from their employment because of their faith. On 27 August Protestant pastor Ilmurad Nurliev was arrested and charged with swindling more than US$2.4 million from three church members who were coerced into making false statements against him. Large-scale swindling attracts a sentence of up to five years' imprisonment. Another church member, Kristina Petrova, has been ordered to testify against Pastor Nurliev or else her husband (who is not a church member) will lose his job, leaving them destitute.

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT GOD WILL:

* provide Pastor Nurliev with words in court and in detention that will bring glory to God; may he know peace through trusting God, and may God bring justice and glory into the situation.

'You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.' (Isaiah 26:3 ESV)

* draw close all those Christians who have been threatened, intimidated and afflicted by the regime; may they grow in faith and sanctification as they find sanctuary in God's presence.

* use these situations, where injustice and cruelty are juxtaposed with innocence and grace, to awaken many Turkmen (89 percent Muslim) to the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ and the transforming power of the Holy Spirit.

* intervene and deal with President Berdimuhamedov and his repressive regime, that religious liberty might become a reality in long-suffering Turkmenistan.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

RAMADAN & PROVOCATION IN THE U.S.A.


RAMADAN . . .


Laylat al-Qadr (lit. Night of Destiny) is the anniversary of the night Muslims believe the first verses of the Quran were revealed to the Islamic prophet Muhammad. While the Quran does not provide a specific date, Laylat al-Qadr is traditionally believed to be found in the last 10 nights of Ramadan. Most Muslims observe Laylat al-Qadr or 'Night of Power' on the 27th night of Ramadan. The Quran describes Laylat al-Qadr as, 'better than a thousand months', for on that night the angels and the Spirit have God's permission to come down in answer prayer (Sura 97). This year, the Night of Power falls on or around the night of 5/6 Sept.

Throughout Ramadan, Muslims are not permitted to eat, drink, smoke or have sexual relations between sun-up and sun-down. The rigors of Ramadan elevate stress, frustration and Islamic zeal. In lands with pre-existing religious tensions, the last days of Ramadan can be days of extreme tension.

In pre-Islamic times, Ramadan was officially a month of peace when caravans could travel unarmed. With the Muslims in decline, Muhammad decided to reverse his flagging fortunes by attacking an unarmed caravan during Ramadan. When the Arabs protested, saying that warfare in the sacred month was a 'great transgression', Mohammad had a 'revelation' and declared that fitna (anything that could shake the faith of a Muslim) was worse than bloodshed (2:216-217). According to Muhammad biographer Husein Haykal, 'This revelation brought the Muslims relief, and the Prophet accepted his share of the booty' (Haykal p 210). Henceforth, Islamic fundamentalists from Egypt to Pakistan to Indonesia; and jihadists from Algeria to Kashmir to Thailand, routinely emulate Muhammad by escalating their jihad during Ramadan.

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT:
  • our LORD Jesus Christ will surprise many Muslims this Laylat al-Qadr (Night of Power) by revealing himself as the Way, Truth and Life (John 14:6)

  • our Sovereign God and Father will watch over and protect his children during these tense days, and 'frustrate the ways of the wicked' (Psalm 146:9 NIV).
. . . & PROVOCATIONS IN THE U.S.A.

This year, just as Ramadan reaches its conclusion, a church in USA, plans to hold an 'International Burn a Qur'an Day'. The day chosen for this event is 11 September, in commemoration of the thousands murdered by Islamic terrorists on 11 Sept 2001.

The church, Dove World Outreach in Gainesville, Florida, claims to be making a statement against Islam which it denounces as false religion, unable to save. While the statement is fine, the means is provocative in the extreme and not in the spirit of Christian grace. It is one thing for a Muslim convert to Christianity to burn his/her Quran as a sign of liberation. It is quite another thing for Christians to burn something precious and sacred to Muslims in the full knowledge that it will cause hurt and outrage. Muslims who have been spiritually searching will doubtless be repelled. Meanwhile, Muslims looking for a reason to kill Christians will be presented one on a platter.

There is already an enormous amount of momentum building for a violent response. Muslims have posted threats to jihadist websites expressing their intention to martyr themselves as bombers in the church. Members of the Al-Falluja jihadist forum (Iraq) have threatened to 'spill rivers of your (American) blood' and 'a war the likes of which you have never seen before'. In Indonesia, the Islam Defenders Front (FPI) has vowed to retaliate if the event goes ahead. On Friday 27 Aug, Muslims holding banners reading 'Destroy burners of the Quran' and 'Answer the Quran burning with Jihad', protested outside the US embassy in Jakarta. According to Roni Ruslan of Indonesia's Hizbut Tahrir, 'No one will be able to control this reaction.'

See:
International Protests Begin Ahead of Sept. 11 Koran Burning Event in Florida
FoxNews.com, 27 August 2010

Florida church plans to burn Quran on 9/11 anniversary
AFP, 1 Aug 2010,

FPI vows to retaliate over Koran burning
Ridwan Max Sijabat, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta, Fri, 27 Aug 2010

Planned holy Quran burning protested by Indonesian Muslims
Ahlul Bayt News Agency, 29 Aug 2010

Also -- 2 appeals from INDIA:
"The MBMC, FMSA and AMU community strongly condemns the call given by the Dove World Outreach Centre, Florida which may throw the world into turmoil."
AND
Two Christian human rights activists in India, J. G. Anthony and RL Francis, have appealed to United States ambassador to India in New Delhi, urging that President Obama intervene to halt the Qur'an burning event, which they believe could trigger religious conflict around the world.

IkhwanWeb.com, the website of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), reports that Dr. Diaa Rashwan, the MB's expert at Egypt's Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies, describes the Qur'an-burning event as "exceedingly dangerous", adding that "a serious crisis will arise and extremism will be initiated in the Muslim world. . ."

See: Burning of Quran evident aggression against Muslims
IkhwanWeb, The Muslim Brotherhood's Official English web site, 4 Aug 2010

Of course Dr. Rashwan's assertion that the event would be a violation the rights of Muslims is rubbish. There is no such right as the right not to be offended. The Qur'an-burning event will be wrong not because it violates Muslims' rights, but because it violates Christ's law of love.

FOR:
Jesus said: "So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets." (Matthew 7:12).
AND:
when Lawyer asked Jesus, "'Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?' . . . [Jesus] said to him, 'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbour as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.'" (Matthew 22:36-40)

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT:

* Terry Jones, pastor of Dove World Outreach, might be sensitive to the Spirit's call for means consistent with the gospel of grace -- for the sake of witness, and so that others might not have to suffer the consequences of his deliberately provocative action.

"For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: 'You shall love your neighbour as yourself.'" (Galatians 5:14)

(Bible texts from English Standard Version)

By the way:

The guys from Acts 17 Apologetics have released a brilliant YouTube film entitled, The Original Burn the Quran Day which recounts the unconvential manner in which the modern Qur'an was compiled. Highly recommended.